eDiscovery Daily Blog

eDiscovery Case Law: Privilege Waived for Produced Servers

If you were at the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) trade show this past August, you may have noticed a huge unfinished building in the middle of the strip – the Fontainebleau Resort.  It sits idle after financing was pulled, forcing Fontainebleau Las Vegas LLC to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June of 2009.  Naturally, lawsuits followed, between the Term Lenders and Fontainebleau Resort, LLC (FRLLC), the third party parent of Fontainebleau Las Vegas – In re Fontainebleau Las Vegas Contract Litig., (S.D. Fla. Jan 7, 2011)

A company that responded to a third party subpoena and court orders compelling production by handing over three servers to lenders without conducting any relevancy review and without reviewing two of the servers for privileged materials waived privilege for documents on the two servers that were not reviewed.

The parent company of a resort in bankruptcy proceedings was served by lenders to the resort with a subpoena for production of documents. The company did not object to the scope of the subpoena, and the court granted a motion of the lenders to compel production. Counsel for the company then halted work by an e-discovery vendor who had completed screening the company’s email server for responsive documents but had not started a privilege review because of concerns that the company could not pay for the services. Counsel for the company also sought to withdraw from the case, but the company was unable to find new counsel.

Rather than seeking a stay or challenging discovery rulings from the court, the company turned over data from a document server, an accounting server, and an email server. According to the court, the three servers were turned over to the lenders without any meaningful review for relevancy or responsiveness. Despite an agreement with the lenders on search terms for the email server, the company produced a 126 gigabyte disk with 700,000 emails from that server and then, without asking for leave of court, was late in producing a privilege log for data on the email server. The lenders sought direction from the court on waiver of privilege and their obligation if they found privileged materials in the data produced by the company. The company for the first time then raised objections to the burdensomeness of the original subpoena served over six months earlier given the company’s lack of resources or employees to conduct a document review.

The court held that the company “waived the attorney-client privilege and work product protection, and any other applicable privileges, for the materials it produced from two of three computer servers in what can fairly be described as a data dump as part of a significantly tardy response to a subpoena and to court-ordered production deadlines.” The court stated that in effect, the company “took the two servers, which it never reviewed for privilege or responsiveness, and said to the Term Lenders ‘here, you go figure it out.’”

However, because the company prepared a privilege log for the email server, the court added that privileges were not waived for materials from the email server. Also, the lenders were directed to alert the company to any “clearly privileged material they may find during their review of the production on the documents and accounting servers.” Although the court was not ruling on admissibility at trial of that privileged material, the lenders would be allowed to use it during pre-trial preparations, including depositions.

So, what do you think?  Was justice served?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case Summary Source: Applied Discovery (free subscription required).  For eDiscovery news and best practices, check out the Applied Discovery Blog here.

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